South Africa’s unacceptably high murder rate is made only more alarming by the number of cases that constitute mass murder – and the low number of convictions for those arrested.

According to the South African Police Service’s (SAPS’) latest crime statistics, 27,066 murders were recorded in the calendar year of 2022, averaging 74 people murdered every day.

While this is already an alarming number, a five-year view of the data shows a clear picture of murder rates on the rise.

Many crime categories subsided in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, but South Africans’ violent tendencies still managed to shine through.

Despite the lockdowns in 2020, murders in South Africa still recorded an average of 53 a day before resurging in 2021 to 65 per day and 74 per day in 2022.

Put into greater context, a murder rate of 43.7 per 100,000 people (seen in 2022) makes South Africa one of the most violent places in the world.

Mass murder and conviction rate in South Africa

Painting an even bleaker picture of the current state of violent crimes in South Africa is that there have been 2,446 incidences of mass murder in the country since 2019.

This is according to a recent parliamentary Q&A, in which police minister Bheki Cele revealed the total number of incidents of mass murder across South Africa where two or more persons were killed in the same incident.

Cele’s response also included the number of victims in each incident, those arrested and have appeared in court, and those ultimately found guilty.

The statistics presented by Cele showed that the 2,446 incidents of mass murder across the country from 2019 to December 2022 accounted for 5,709 murder victims.

This represents an estimated 2.3 victims per incident. Of the 2,446 incidents, only 1,511 individuals were arrested, with those accused presented before the courts.

Of the 1,511 persons arrested and charged, only 103 were convicted for the murders – representing a conviction rate of only 6.8%. 

Over the review period, 2021/2022 was the worst year for mass murders in South Africa, although arguably the first three quarters of 2022/2023 (ending December 2022) have it beat, with 701 incidents (vs 769) over fewer months.

A worrying trend in the data is the number of incidents and victims escalating, but the number of arrests not following suit, and worse – the number of convictions declining significantly. Cases against those arrested may still be ongoing, however.

2019/20204381 00937250
2020/20215381 24534337
2021/20227691 79140813
April – December 20227011 6643883
Total2 4465 7091 511103

Reasons for the murders

According to the SAPS, the why, how and where of murder in South Africa are broadly the same as they have always been.

Most reported murders occur due to arguments, misunderstandings, road rage and provocation. The second most common cause is a result of vigilantism and mob justice, followed by retaliation or revenge.

A significant number of people are also murdered during robberies and in gang-related crimes, the SAPS said.

Most murders take place in a public place, such as a street or an open field or a parking area – or at the residence of the victim (including places known to the victim or perpetrator). A small percentage takes place on farms or on rural holdings, with 11 murders recorded at residential farms.

Worryingly, women are far more likely to be a victim of murder in South Africa than men – almost three times as many women than men were murdered over the period.

In most murder cases, a gun was used as the murder weapon, followed by knives, sharp instruments, blunt instruments, body parts, and bricks/stones.

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